One might think that ongoing sewage leaks or persistent rodent problems would be enough to trigger a fine for a hospital, but according to an investigation by USA Today, that is rarely the outcome.
Take, for instance, the case of MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington D.C. The hospital is the go-to emergency center for members of Congress. The hospital is under investigation by the D.C. Health Department for sewage leaks, which have been ongoing for almost 2 years. One leak affected the operating room in which Congressman Steve Scalise was had his last operation after his shooting in June.
In addition, it also suffers from poor quality ratings particularly for certain infections, and foreign objects left inside surgical patients. Despite these issues, the last time a Washington D.C. hospital was fined was in 2013, when Specialty Hospital of Washington had to pay a penalty of $10,000.
Likewise, for Venice Regional Bayfront Health in Sarasota, Florida, a state investigation found 13 violations of state and federal law in its handling of a major sewage leak. The violations included failure to assure the sewage was cleaned up properly and to conduct an infection control risk assessment. Investigators reported finding live rats above ceiling tiles affected by the leak, along with other problems, according to the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota. What was their penalty? According to the hospital spokesman, Bob Hite, a “nominal” $4,000 fine.
In addition to increasing infection risk, unclean facilities have other substantial consequences. To get reimbursement for treating Medicare patients, hospitals have to maintain a clean environment that’s designed to prevent the transmission of communicable diseases, noted infection control expert Larry Muscarella. Sewage leaks in operating rooms could easily violate that, he says.
The issue is not that hospitals suffer from the same maintenance issues as every other commercial property. Obviously, there will occasionally be issues, and they must be remediated quickly, and in keeping with safety and sterilization requirements. The issue is the lack of will on the part of state and federal overseers to impose penalties for slow or unsatisfactory remediation. It is imperative that hospitals be more efficient at fixing things like sewage leaks and rodent infestations – if not on their own volition, than certainly out of fear of fines for noncompliance with safety standards.